Marshall Clement Sanford, Jr., the once and future Congressman from Charleston, (by way of Beaufort) SC, is returning to the House. And no matter what you read, it does not signify any shift in voter ethics, in political preferences, in attitudes toward Congress or the President or anything else.
Sanford was first elected to this seat in 1995, handpicked for the seat by a retiring six-term Republican Congressman, and retired in 2001 to run for Governor, which he subsequently won, taking office in 2003. He was among his Party’s brightest stars, having been described as the most fiscally-conservative member of Congress by the Cato Institute. You might remember that he fouled that up by going – completely – AWOL during his governancy, which he explained by saying he had gone on an extended hike on the Appalachian Trail. Of course in reality he was in Argentina with his paramour (to whom he has since, following his divorce, proposed marriage). All on the taxpayer dime.
And those last couple of sentences are where the traditional media wants you to focus. But that is not the story of this election.
The story is far more simple, perhaps even mundane. SC-01, you see, has been Red (Republican) since the 1980 election. Yeah, that’s 33 years. A third of a century. Earlier this year some political dominoes fell in the right direction and the seat opened up for a special election. Special elections get a lot of attention, because they’re normally the only electoral news when they happen. This special was even more special because Sanford was intent on reclaiming his former hometown seat and the DNC managed to convince the sister of brilliant satirist Stephen Colbert to run on the Blue ticket. And yes, I meant to refer to Elizabeth Colbert-Busch as Stephen Colbert’s sister, because, let’s face it, that’s why she was national news. But this is not about her.
Another thing you should know about SC-01: In 2012, Mitt Romney won more than 19% more votes there than Barack Obama. What I’m saying is that this is a bright red district. The district includes freakin’ Parris Island, for goodness’ sake. It’s a highly conservative base of voters.
Add to that the truth that this was Mark Sanford’s stompin’ grounds. He owned a real estate company in those parts before falling into the Congressional seat the first time around. He’s knocked doors, kissed babies and done Congressional favors in SC-o1 for nearly two decades. He knows these voters. His trusted staff know who to call to get the voters to the polls, and they know where the polls are.
The Republican voters of SC-01 are Mark Sanford’s people, and he knows how to talk to them.
I do not mean to discount the efforts of Democrats across the nation. A lot of people, Ms. Colbert-Busch included, worked very hard and ran a good race. South Forward, good progressive friends of Everblog, put in tremendous effort to turn this district Blue. One would hope they were able to make the progressive case and change some minds for the long-term in SC-01. But this race wasn’t theirs to win.
Mark Sanford would have had to actively try to lose this election to not win it. His opponent was a first-time candidate and when they got down into the “short-rows” of the last week of the campaign, it showed. It also showed that Sanford had decades of experience in hand-shakin’, back-slappin’, baby-kissin’ old-school retail politics. (Which kind of bewildered the national media, who aren’t used to following elections at this level.)
And no matter what points the traditional media wants you to take from this, that’s the whole story: Prominent local boy screws up, comes home, begs forgiveness, does what he does well, gets forgiven by local electorate.
The good news is that Sanford isn’t likely to stick around. He’s seen Pay-ree, and he ain’t stayin’ down on the farm. There’s going to be a Senate seat open and you bet your shrimp-n-grits Mark Sanford is going to be in that race. Here’s hoping Ms. Colbert-Busch (and South Forward) are around for the easier pickin’s.